The Safe Stud: Can gender-bending be a safety issue for women?

I was having a conversation with a friend about her baby sister who recently came out as lesbian. Although she was supportive of her sister being lesbian, she was concerned and frustrated that her sister was privately dressing and posturing “like a boy”. We discussed the pervasiveness of this trend amongst young women, especially young African-American women in urban areas. I went into bootleg LGTBQ educator mode and told her about transphobia and how this can be more isolating and vicious than homophobia at times, even within the LGBTQ community. Then I suggested that my friend research the terms “boi” and transgender and follow-up by asking her sister how she identifies. She then shared that her sister used the term “stud” to identify herself. After discussing the gender binary and how fluid and non-conforming it can be in the LGBTQ community, I began to look beyond personal preference/identity and into the possibility of the need to feel safe for young girls in urban communities.

Could dressing like a stud or boi, regardless of sexual orientation or being transgender, possibly be a radical feminist decision to feel safer in a male-dominated, hypersexualized society? Women are highly sexualized and consistently harassed on a daily basis upon leaving their homes. We are often seen as expendable sex objects who exist only for male consumption and are frequently expected to submit to unwanted advances for fear of being perceived as a bitch or snob. Whether we don tight jeans, a professional business suit or a dress, we are equally solicited, fawned and pawed upon like strippers in the club. Being a female, it’s hard to escape the constant advances and most females (once they reach puberty) can attest to this. This is especially the case for teenaged girls who seem exceedingly susceptible. Grown men honk or gawk at the asses of underage girls like the pedophiles they are and many boys seem on hormonal overload with their pitiful attempts to talk to and grab just about every girl they see.

The Young Women’s Action Team in Chicago does community activism around stopping street harassment from boys and men towards girls and women. This is because of the pervasiveness of young girls and women being repeatedly advanced upon and harassed by males when walking down the street or taking public transportation. It usually begins with “Hey baby” or “yo shorty” and escalates to groping, threatening, intimidating, or worse when advances are ignored or dismissed. 86% of the respondents surveyed reported that they had been catcalled (i.e. “Hey cutie” or “Come here!”) and 53% felt like they could not do anything to stop street harassment. I personally have been called foul names from cars filled with guys, had bottles thrown at me for not responding in kind to advances, and have been stalked and fondled on public transportation by adult men old enough to be my father and grandfather, respectively.

So how have young women adapted to or rejected this sick reality? Some carry weapons and rape whistles. Some comply and feign interest or quietly continue to be harassed until they can make an exit. Some girls provide plenty of attitude and sass, despite the names they may be called. And more radically, I suspect that some have gone stud and transformed into bois before our very eyes. Yes, some females are studs as part of their gender and or sexual identity, but I think there is more to the story that is seldom discussed or considered. Women and girls often do not feel safe or respected in public. This worsens at night and in isolated areas or walking through throngs of guys. So can dressing in “masculine” attire create a sense of power, control and intentional obscurity for young girls and women? It’s possible. There is a keen power in not having to worry about anyone following you home or harassing you for your phone number when you look similar to the male perpetrator. Since homophobia and the “no-homo” mantra is so rampant, many young men won’t publicly advance upon someone with their masculine likeness, whether male or female. Young urban girls, both straight and queer, are more frequently wearing masculine clothing and a rugged persona more than ever before. It can be said that this is in direct retaliation to harassment and becoming a stud shouts, “I am powerful. I am not afraid. I will not be a target. I will not play your games. I am your equal. Do not talk to, look at or touch me or you will meet your match.” Now some would say that this is an extreme possibility, but I would argue that extreme circumstances demand extreme measures and that we subconsciously cope and adapt to the environment as a means of our very survival.

My mother, a non-gender conforming lesbian, called me on the shift in my dress code while I was attending undergrad. She made me aware that I no longer dressed “femme” and had gone through a dramatic metamorphosis by cutting off my hair into a short, uncomplicated fro, and wearing tattered, baggy jeans, Timberland or combat boots, fatigues, and huge t-shirts under an array of faded thrift store flannels. My excuse was that it was just who I was (at that moment) and that I was probably influenced by hip-hop culture to be naturally rugged. She saw something more, something more insidious. She reminded me of all of the negative and jarring incidents I’d had with strange men and annoying boys through the years and suggested that I had gone into a sort of hiding, a camouflage of whom I really was, burying the feminine deep inside.

Initially, I rejected her accusation because I was strong and publicly feared no one. Everyone knew this. Tina was no punk. Tina was a fighter in every sense of the word and had taken out many men to accentuate this fact. But after processing my mother’s statements later, I realized that there was some truth to her words which added to the complexity of whom I had become. I was tired of being assaulted and had grown fearful of being me – a sultry, eccentric, risk-taking young diva – because it brought me unwanted attention and didn’t allow boys or men to take me seriously or see me as a human being. That reality saddened me. The problem is that it wasn’t and isn’t just my reality. We have a nation of young girls and women donning the urban burka of saggy pants, bound breasts, and oversized tees and shirts – trying to just fit in without being sexualized as soon as eyes are laid upon us. Some of these girls are willing to sacrifice or cut off their femininity to protect their existence and to preserve their spirits.

So whether a small percentage of girls and women are drastically covering up and shifting the paradigm as a political act or an act of survival isn’t worth arguing over. What I’m trying to cast light on is that although we should have the flexibility to dress and project the images that we wish, we should not feel pressured to go outside of who we are as a response to sexual harassment. We need to address the issue directly. Men and boys must take responsibility for their actions and begin policing themselves and each other. Girls and women must use their voices to say “Stop! This is unacceptable.” Women and men must teach their sons how to appropriately address, relate to, and respect girls and women. Girls and women must learn to respect themselves and demand it from others. If our youth do not know better, we have failed them. We need to begin to see each other as human, not conquests and perps. We can’t see women as merely sex objects, just as we can’t only view men as potential victimizers and purveyors of sexism. There is responsibility and blame all around.

This has to be a collaborative effort and we have to be honest about how we see each other and how we interact with one another. There is an unhealthy relationship that can’t be rectified if we don’t acknowledge that there is a problem. I’m here to say it. “There is a problem.” Our young girls and women have been under attack and the individuals responsible don’t even know that they are playing part of the vicious cycle of disrespect, subjugation and victimization of the very women that they proclaim to want to protect and connect with. It doesn’t end with your daughter or mine. We have to protect all of society’s daughters, whether feminine, old, young, or stud.

P.S. Someone commented on another site that I did not address violence towards female-to-male trans persons. I apologize for the omission, as I was trying to make another point. The trans community is indeed under attack and are often the victims of violence and being a “stud” will not automatically protect one from this sad reality.


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